RALEIGH — A Republican budget proposal to give state workers a starting salary of $15 an hour is “a pretty big deal for many people in Robeson and Columbus counties,” said Sen. Danny Britt, a Republican who represents both counties.
Budget writers within the GOP announced Thursday a proposal to pay all full-time state employees at least $31,200 annually. That would include public school custodians and cafeteria workers, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s housekeepers, groundskeepers and administrative assistants, and workers in other agencies, such as the departments of Transportation and Corrections.
Republican lawmakers rolled out their budget during the legislative short session and without input from Democrats or floor debate, which has raised the ire of one Democratic member of the state House.
“Republicans are ramming through their budget without any Democratic input or amendments because they are afraid to take votes for better teachers pay and tax fairness,” Rep. Garland Pierce said. “No state budget has ever been handled this way in modern North Carolina history. This is just the latest effort to rig the system in favor of corporations and wealthy campaign donors instead of teachers, students and working families. Budgets are about priorities. Their budget will likely have the wrong priorities and they want to escape accountability and shut down debate.”
The budget announcement came as a surprise, but the groundwork for the pay increase was laid in previous budget talks, Britt said.
“We’ve talked about this since 2016,” said Britt, a first-term senator seeking re-election. “We needed to get to a place where we could make it happen.”
The senator said North Carolina’s budget is producing a surplus, and the pay increase is in line with “conservative fiscal principles.”
The proposed budget gives other state employees a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. Teachers would get an average of 6.1 percent, correctional officers 4 percent and the Highway Patrol one of 8 percent.
State employees got a cost-of-living increase in the budget proposal, but state retirees will get only a one-time bonus equal to 1 percent of their annual pension.
“I do hear from state retirees, and they have a valid concern,” Britt said. “They have to buy groceries, too.”
The senator said he has a special concern for retirees. Both he and his wife, who is a teacher, are in the state retirement program.
The state’s wealthiest taxpayers, who make more than $200,000 a year, and corporations will get a tax break in the proposed budget.
“This will be a boost to small-business people in the state,” Britt said.
Reaction to the living wage proposal for state workers has been favorable. The State Employees Association said it will make North Carolina a leader in the campaign for a living wage.
The pay raises equate to “life-changing money,” said Robert Broome, State Employees Association of North Carolina executive director.
“Working for the state should not be a path to poverty, and we shouldn’t be paying poverty wages to our folks,” Broome said.
He added the plan “will make North Carolina a leader in terms of living wages for public employees.”
It is unclear exactly how many state employees would benefit, but one estimate was that more than 10 percent of state workers would get a raise.
A “living wage” is defined as the wage that a full-time worker can support a family. The current wage floor for state employees is $24,200.
A bill proposed in 2017 by North Carolina Democrats would have raised the minimum hourly wage for all workers to $15 by 2021. It failed, and the state minimum wage remained at $7.25 an hour.
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 of [email protected]